Charitable groups rely on holiday giving

Volunteer Mary Matthews passes out a hot meal at the Salvation Army facility on Greene Street in Augusta on Nov. 17.



On a day when many take time to give thanks, area nonprofit agencies say they hope to continue helping provide food for the table and a warm home for the growing number of those in need.

“This is the time of the year that there is the biggest need. Those people are calling on our agencies,” said Travis McNeal, the director of special projects for Golden Harvest Food Bank. “You’re seeing more people getting in line at the pantries.”

Golden Harvest distributed 14.4 million pounds of food during the fiscal year that ended in September. That’s 11 percent more than the year before, McNeal said.

The charity refused to bend its mission of feeding the hungry across the area and beyond, despite struggling times. It cut staff members and consolidated operations rather than let its clients go without.

“Last year was one of the hardest years we’ve had in meeting our budget,” McNeal said. “The demand was so much greater.”

Monetary donations and volunteer work hours for charitable organizations such as Golden Harvest become ever more important during the holiday season when families need gifts for children, warm meals and assistance during cold weather.

Augusta agencies are following national trends that indicate nonprofit organizations are still recovering from the hard hit to charitable donations since the economic downturn began in 2009.

Giving exceeded $300 billion in 2008 and 2009, but fell to $290 billion in 2010, said Michael Nilsen, the spokesman for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Donations so far this year indicate that growth could be minimal at best.

“Giving is very, very flat. The numbers have barely changed over the years,” Nilsen said.

Many charities account for between 30 and 60 percent of their annual contributions during the final quarter of the year. A weak holiday giving season can affect charitable programs for an entire year, Nilsen said. This year is no different.

“There’s some optimism, but there was some optimism at the end of last year, too,” he said.

November and December are typically the months that Golden Harvest receives the greatest donations and volunteer time, but some who once donated are now asking for assistance.

Corporate donations are lower than ever, and individual donations trailed off after peaking two years ago, McNeal said.

The United Way of the CSRA has seen a similar trend in corporate and individual donations since 2009.

Many still give, but the amounts are far less than before, said La Verne Gold, the president and CEO of the local United Way. Donors are also more interested in where their money goes and how the charity puts it to good use.

“When they do want to give, they want to give to organizations that are results-oriented,” Gold said.

Monetary donations, however, trail off between Thanksgiving and Christmas before spiking right before the new year. Those last-minute donations are critical for United Way’s fundraising campaign, Gold said.

“Our fear is that as you get past Thanksgiving and closer to the holidays, the giving takes a dive. People are concerned with their holiday plans,” she said.

As of last week, United Way of the CSRA had collected $1 million of a $4.1 million goal. The end-of-the-year push includes totals from large workplace donors and should bring the charity to its goal.

“We’re not feeling defeated at the moment,” she said.

The Salvation Army of Augusta continues to meet clients’ needs even though demand for services has increased, said Capt. Todd Mason, the organization’s administrator.

The number of people needing assistance to pay electric bills doubled in recent months compared with last year, he said. The Salvation Army works with Georgia Power Co. to provide financial assistance.

“They have exhausted all their personal resources,” Mason said.

The Salvation Army depends on its annual Red Kettle fundraiser, in which bell ringers collect donations at 25spots, to pay for services such as a homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

“It’s extremely important for us. It not only allows us to provide assistance during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It helps us provide assistance going into 2012,” Mason said.

Nonprofits have depended on a key strategy of retaining their reliable donors during the rough economy, Nilsen said. Charities recommend giving small donations on a monthly basis rather than a large, one-time donation.


SALVATION ARMY: Volunteer to be a Red Kettle bell ringer. Stand by a kettle and help collect money used to fund year-round social services programs. Opportunities available Monday through Saturday until Dec. 24. To sign up, contact Katie Atkinson at or (706) 826-7933.

GOLDEN HARVEST FOOD BANK: Volunteers with a car or van are needed to pick up items from food drives and deliver them to the main food warehouse. Contact Tammy Jackson at or (706) 736-1199, ext. 207.

MASTER’S TABLE SOUP KITCHEN: Prepare food and serve meals to the homeless in downtown Augusta. Shifts run between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday through Friday. Availability varies and shifts fill quickly. Contact Tammy Jackson at or (706) 736-1199, ext. 207.

RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE OF AUGUSTA: Spend time with sick children and their families. Volunteers are always needed for duties including receptionist, house greeter, family assistant and housekeeping. The house is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. To sign up, call house manager Kristina Collins at (706) 724-5901 or visit

EASTER SEALS EAST GEORGIA: Gift-wrapping volunteers are needed at Augusta Mall to support programs of Easter Seals East Georgia from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 15-23 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 24. Call Jillian Fritz, the special events coordinator, at (706) 667-9695 to sign up.

HOLIDAY MAIL FOR HEROES: Write holiday cards to U.S. military members who will be away from home this season. Send mail to Holiday Mail for Heroes, P.O. Box 5456, Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456. Mail must be postmarked by Dec. 9. For additional guidelines, visit

CATHOLIC SOCIAL SERVICES: Donations of food and personal hygiene items are accepted at 811 12th St., Augusta, GA 30901. Volunteers are needed at the Catholic Social Services Thrift Store, 2108 Broad St. Call (706) 737-8286 for more information.

FULL CIRCLE REFUGE JUVENILE JUSTICE MINISTRY: Help is needed baking cookies, packing gifts, preparing meals and visiting area youth detention centers. Gift packing will be Dec. 1, 5 and 15. Meal preparation will be Dec. 2, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18 and 21. Both will be held at the Full Circle Refuge office, 9509 Berwick Court, Grovetown. Several dates and times in December are available for fellowship at the youth detention centers. Call (706) 951-2693 or e-mail for confirmed dates and times and to sign up.



• Give to the Salvation Army’s Online Red Kettle. Donate at

• Golden Harvest Food Bank uses donations to offset operation and food costs. Send a check to 3310 Commerce Drive, Augusta, GA 30909. Give online at Donations may be specified for turkey purchases or any other need.

• United Way of the CSRA accepts donations at its office, 1765 Broad St. Give online at

• Donate to SafeHomes, a local agency that assists victims of domestic violence and their families in 10 counties surrounding Augusta. Mail checks payable to SafeHomes, P.O. Box 3187, Augusta, GA 30914. Contribute online at Call Meghann Eppenbrock at (706) 736-2499 for more information.

• Help provide tuition assistance for low-income families attending Heritage Academy, an independent Christian school for children of diverse backgrounds in downtown Augusta. Donate online at

• Catholic Social Services accepts donations that will be used toward services such as utility assistance during winter months, food programs and medical assistance. Mail checks payable to Catholic Social Services to 811 12th St., Augusta, GA 30901.